Strong Poison

Needing something to watch tonight, I rummaged through my DVDs for something I hadn’t watched yet. I was in a period piece mood, but not my usual tour through Tudor or Elizabethan England. No, I was feeling more in line with cloche hats and fine cars. So I broke open my Dorothy L Sayers boxset of the old series starring Edward Petherbridge. I watched most of them when I was much younger, back when Mystery! was hosted by Vincent Price on Thursday nights.

Since it’s a period piece, I think “Strong Poison” has held up quite well, although I kept wondering how they’d have changed things for modern audiences. Or would they have? Would they been explicit about the effects of arsenic? I don’t recommend Strong Poison for anyone with stomach concerns. Would they have made the Bohemians more out there? By 1980s standards, the model scene seemed quite surprising. I actually don’t remember that scene at all, making me wonder if it was cut by PBS or if I was too young to “get” it.

I remembered Harriet and Peter quite well of course, but I was pleasantly surprised by the side characters, particularly the women. I expected it in Gaudy Night where it’s set at a womens’ college, but not in Strong Poison. I’m so used to these days where there’s a constant struggle to even see more one or two female roles in a show, much less interact for any length of time. Most of women involved in “Strong Poison” were either older or spinsters; even Harriet was unmarried and castigated for turning down her lover. For all that it was the Lord Peter mysteries, Miss Climpson and Miss Murchison held considerable parts in cracking the case, usually pulling the wool over their eyes of their male betters. Even the interaction between Miss Climpson and Miss Booth was conspiratorial, working together to solve a problem.

In fact, the only thing that bothered me was the attitude towards Harriet. Either Harriet was divine and everyone loved her or she was the cold hard bitch that deserved what she got. I don’t know how much of that is the screenplay or in the original book, but it was disconcerting.

I’ll try to watch the other two dvds in the set this weekend and see how they hold up. I don’t remember enjoying “Have His Carcase” nearly as much when I was younger, compared to the other two, so I’ll be curious to see if that attitude has changed at all.

An admission: I’ve tried to read Sayers’ books. I may indeed try again before this is through. Until then, she can converse with Professor Tolkein in my library. I’m sure they’ll find loads to discuss.


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